Don’t be afraid to send a letter.
National Public Radio or NPR, commonly known as the station that plays elevator music as a lead-in for their news programs, made a few headlines after announcing they’d remove the comments section on their website.
“After much experimentation and discussion, we’ve concluded that the comment sections on NPR.org stories are not providing a useful experience for the vast majority of our users,” a blog post explaining the change to their website read.
The blog post went on to explain that they get much more valuable interactions on social media. The internet has changed drastically since the growth of social media, leaving a lot of comment sections on websites as the wastelands of the internet.
I’ll take it a step further and say that taking the comments section down cuts off an avenue for internet trolls and conspiracy theorists to spout hateful, untrue, sensational things that only serve to push their agenda.
Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post explains what happened when he started a political blog called The Fix…
“I would regularly go into the comments to interact (or try to interact) with readers. I incentivized and deputized regular commenters to keep order,” he wrote in a column that about NPR’s decision. “Then I gave up. Because none of the tactics or strategies we tried ever had any real impact on the quality of the dialogue happening on The Fix. No matter what the original post was about, a handful of the loudest — or most committed — voices in the room hijacked the comments thread to push their own agendas.”
Don’t believe him or NPR? I dare you to go to the comments section of popular YouTube videos or a major news site like ABC, NBC, CBS or Fox. The things being said by people are vile. So vile in fact, I try to avoid these comment sections like the plague – thankfully most websites have given you the option to keep comments tucked away in a tab far away from your eyes.
The problem with comment sections is they are open to basically anyone in the wild west of the internet unless you want to hire a moderator that can weed out all the awful stuff.
The other problem is after reading an article and shifting to the comments, you’ll get bombarded with theories, opinions and ideas that are unsubstantiated.
Unlike getting your news from a journalist that had to at least make an effort to get the facts right, you’re subjected to the wild thoughts of FurryCat114 that doesn’t have to put his real name on his comments or be held to the same standards that the swriter had.
And having taken a peek around social media, I can tell you that a lot of regular folks have fallen prey to the idea that anything anyone posts must be true because it was on the internet.
I don’t think that NPR or a growing number of media outlets that are disabling their comments section are trying to stifle free speech. They’re just trying to put an end to the trolling that is rampant on their websites.
The ol’ “Letter to the Editor” I feel is still the best way to get across your thoughts. Naturally, you have to attach your name to it, preventing somebody from going off the deep end with a hurtful tirade or just random rants about aliens invading from Mars.
Opinion sections in newspapers are still distilled areas of thought that people can give an informed, tempered idea of what they’re thinking. Internet comment sections usually resemble that guy on the street that tells you the end is near while spinning a purple umbrella on his head.
So let me turn this column around and ask people to send their Letters to the Editor to the paper. Don’t be afraid to have an opinion if you think it out thoroughly and do your research. We know for a fact that your local representatives and people in local government read the opinion pages. We know there are probably stories in the paper that make you react so please let us us know how they’re making you feel.
We won’t be disabling the Letters to the Editor section anytime soon, so we’d ask you all to please contribute because the sign of a good community is the vibrant exchange of ideas.
Send us a letter at firstname.lastname@example.org
-Brandon Hansen / Brandon is the managing editor of the Chewelah Independent